UK organizers detail how COVID-19 may change 2021 festival lineups
Organizers overseas are currently gearing up for the return of music festivals this summer. As COVID-19 cases in the U.K. slowly decline and more vaccinations are administered, many are optimistic that this year’s festival season will bring back some normalcy in what’s truly been an unprecedented past year.
Despite some festivals going ahead as planned, big changes could still happen. In particular, numerous event organizers have opened up to NME about how the global pandemic could impact 2021’s festival lineups.
Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled England’s four-step plan to ease out of COVID-19 restrictions. If all goes according to the timeline, the country could be completely out of lockdown by late June. Of course, this is all dependent on keeping COVID-19 cases low and continuing the rollout of vaccines.
Following the announcement, a lot of festivals began preparing for their return including Reading & Leeds. After confirming it will take place this August, it didn’t take long for both Reading Festival and Leeds Festival to completely sell out. Although Melvin Benn, Director of Festival Republic, assures that Reading & Leeds will return safely this year, the Reading Borough Council has said “nothing has been agreed” in regards to the festival taking place.
Meanwhile, Glastonbury may have been canceled this year, but various other U.K. festivals such as Standon Calling, Bloodstock Open Air, All Points East and Slam Dunk are all set to take place in 2021. Now, U.K. festival organizers have discussed how the coronavirus pandemic could impact the lineups at these upcoming events.
Many fear that each country’s varying vaccination plans, testing availability and quarantine restrictions could make it unlikely for artists to tour internationally in 2021. For Alex Trenchard, who runs Standon Calling, this year’s lineup is filled with domestic talent. However, there are a few vacant spots on the bill they’re leaving open in case overseas artists can travel before the festival kicks off July 22.
“The lineup we’ve announced is pretty much a domestic lineup, but not wholly so,” Trenchard tells NME. “Our headliners are Bastille, Hot Chip and Primal Scream. At the same time, we have left gaps in the rest of the bill for acts we’d booked from the U.S., depending on what happens and how they feel about traveling. We have got two U.S. acts at the top of the bill in the form of Sister Sledge and De La Soul. We’ve spoken to them and they are optimistic that they are going to be able to travel.”
Currently, President Joe Biden anticipates that all U.S. adults will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1. Based on this timeline, Trenchard is optimistic American artists will be able to travel overseas before peak festival season. However, if those plans become unrealistic, Standon Calling features plenty of talented U.K.-based acts.
“We hope to be able to add a few more American acts if things go in the right direction,” Trenchard tells NME. “We’re open and flexible. If they can’t join the bill, then there’s plenty of amazing British artists that haven’t played a festival show in two years.”
Similarly, Adam Gregory, the director of the metal festival Bloodstock Open Air, is also confident that international artists will be able to play the festival. This year, Bloodstock Open Air is celebrating its 20th anniversary with acts such as Judas Priest, Skindred, Kreator, Bury Tomorrow and Devin Townsend.
“A lot of the lineup is U.K.-based anyway,” Gregory tells NME. “Out of the 140 bands that we’ve got, only 25 or 27 are international. A lot of them are confident that they can still play. As long as the U.K. is open for shows, then they can still come. I think that the appetite from fans means that they don’t really mind if certain bands can’t make it, and they just want to get out there and go for a show. They’re a lot more forgiving than they would be in a normal year.”
Despite this, however, Dr. Michael Head, a Senior Research Fellow In Global Health at the University of Southampton, has some words of caution. Head explains to NME that the quarantine and rules for entering the U.K. may change by this summer. As a result, travel restrictions and international entry may prohibit overseas artists from taking part in the U.K.’s festival season.
“There may be restrictions on people coming into the U.K., there may be the need for quarantines depending on where you’re coming from,” Head tells NME. “If you’re booking an artist to come to the U.K. in August, then you can’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be policies like needing to quarantine for two weeks. Booking overseas talent is a logistical challenge. You can’t guarantee what the rules might be at the time of the event.”
Although there’s some uncertainty, concertgoers have made it clear they are ready to get back into shows. Shortly after Boris Johnson announced the plans to ease out of lockdown, Live Nation sold a staggering 170,000 festival tickets in just three days.
As for the United States, a lot of festivals are still planning to happen this year. Inkcarceration is scheduled to happen Sept. 10–12 in Mansfield, Ohio while Louder Than Life is set for Sept. 23–26 in Louisville, Kentucky. Meanwhile, Welcome To Rockville is expected to happen Nov. 11–14 in its new location of the Daytona International Speedway in Florida.
As well, Aftershock Festival is happening Oct. 7–10. My Chemical Romance and Metallica are returning as this year’s headliners. Machine Gun Kelly, Rise Against, Parkway Drive and Rancid are also among the acts playing the Sacramento festival.
Back in February, Live Nation’s CEO Michael Rapino predicted that large-scale U.S. concerts could make a return this summer. However, there are still a lot of factors to consider even though Live Nation estimates July may be when events resume.
“Every day we seem to have a new state or country talking about when they’ll open up, so we’re feeling more optimistic than we were a month ago,” he said during a conference call via Variety. “Lots of artists are calling, looking at how we start up in July, August, September. So for right now, we still believe we’ll have enough open in the U.K., Australia, Canada and the U.S. to keep what we have on the books in amphitheaters booked for now.”
Rapino went on to say that some areas of the country may have to wait until this fall for gigs to resume.
“We might have certain states that might not be ready,” he said during a conference call via Variety. “But we have enough states and enough artists willing to play the open slots if we get to that level in the right markets. So as long as these states open up to the right capacities. We can start in midsummer and in the southern U.S. we can go all the way into November.”
Earlier this month, both Mississippi and Texas lifted mask mandates and allowed venues to reopen at full capacity. As well, New York venues can begin reopening at limited capacity starting April 2. Meanwhile, Arizona, Washington, Ohio and Connecticut are among the states planning to reopen some venues at limited capacities in the next few months.
According to research collected by Live Nation, many individuals are hopeful concerts will return soon. In fact, 83% of concert-goers have held onto their concert tickets over the past year. As well, 64% of fans plan on attending even more concerts than before when they do return.
Do you think international acts will be able to play U.K. festivals this year? Let us know in the comments below.